Adobe recently announced Flash search-ability, and it is starting to stir up renewed excitement for the Adobe platform. Neil McAllister at InfoWorld raises a couple of good question on the relevance of Flash content being searchable (view the entire article here):
“if today’s RIAs no longer resemble what we would call the Web, then is shoehorning those applications into the Web’s infrastructure really the right way to go? If application developers feel limited by the constraints of standards-compliant browser technologies, should they really be targeting their applications for the browser?”
I spent some time today chatting with Rebecca, our Chief Marketing Officer, about how she views “Search”. Rebecca did a ton of marketing consulting for large organizations before she joined the EffectiveUI team, and she had some terrific insight to share with me on the subject:
“Marketers are challenged today with how to drive traffic and leads towards their website; search engine optimization has become an attractive (if not the MOST attractive way) of driving qualified leads to your online presence. I always hated (as a marketing consultant) having to recommend to my clients that they had to make a choice between find-ability (search optimized html) and usability/engagement (Flash)”
Rebecca also lead the charge in creating the User Interface Resource Center. One of the core requirements of the UIRC was that its contents be search engine optimized. A recent article posted to the UIRC was an interview with Ethan Eismann, Senior Experience Design Lead for Adobe. After the interview, Ethan poked a little fun at us, asking why the site did not have a few “more engaging” elements (obviously commenting on the lack of any Flash content) – Rebecca’s answer : “If we used Flash, people would not be able to find this article!”. True… until now.
This renewed excitement for search in Flash content begs a much larger question to be asked:
“Is Search Always Relevant?“
The reality is, as “Web 2.0″ starts to live up to its true potential, Search becomes less relevant. There is a major shift happening on the web right now, one that could threaten Search’s dominance. So, what’s the threat?
Search is all about content, and content (contrary to the cliche) is NOT king …..anymore. Describing the internet as a sum of all its content is diminishing its true power. The internet can (and is) so much more. The internet is the new Software Platform – where people not only go to get informed and entertained (view content), but also to pay their bills, collaborate with co-workers, upload and edit photographs, connect with family, manage projects, track sales, and a million other useful things… For all of these services, Search is irrelevant — Let me clarify : Search will not help your customers pay their bill or edit their photograph – it will only help your customers FIND these services. Ultimately, companies that spend the time to provide true online usefulness will be the ones who dominate on the web. (and by the by, Sales Force, 37 Signals, eBay are already dominating because they found a way to extract great utility for their customers).
One of my favorite stories about the responsibility of marketers is one that I heard third hand (not even sure if its true). The story begins with Lee Clow, the Chief Creative Office for TBWA\Worldwide. Lee is a true visionary, and a legend in advertising. Once, a customer of TBWA (a major auto manufacturer) complained to him that their dealership visits were way up, but their sales remained flat. He responded with a simple, blunt and confident truth: “It’s our job to get people in the door, its your job to build a great product”. Search is NOT the answer to all of your online marketing woes – start with creating a better user experience, offering your audience something of real value, and respecting your customer’s time –in other words, build a great product.
Finally, trying to optimize your site for Search can have a negative impact on its usefulness. Optimizing for search is creating your site for another computer to understand and consume. In almost every circumstance, this means you are making compromises to usability in order to make the site more searchable – you are making your product less meaningful in order to drive more traffic through it (Lee Clow would be ashamed)